Live whisky auctions have been affected as a consequence of the success of online whisky auctions. There have been winners and losers on both sides, especially in the UK. Some new online auction houses have struggled to attract vendors. Yet, live whisky auction operations require premises open to the public, viewing days, charismatic auctioneers, and alluring high-quality printed catalogues.
Early on, it became clear that online was more favourable for flipping new releases, with only a fraction of this trade going to traditional auction houses. Only a year or two ago, prestigious big ticket items from Bowmore, The Macallan, and Glenfiddich had maintained a solid presence in live auctions; perhaps vendors respected their long established relationships with the traditional auction houses, or there was trepidation that buyers would not be willing to spend five or ten thousands pounds for a bottle image on a screen. Now this lucrative market is switching rapidly, ebbing away from the traditional salerooms. Noticeably, some live auctions are attracting relatively fewer lots of quality collectibles, with growing proportions of sales comprising mixed lots. What will they do to innovate, modify, and adapt to keep us engaged in live auctions in 2016
Let’s pick out some beauties that have performed well in UK live auctions then, shall we? McTear’s produced £1,100 for a bottle of Glenmorangie 1993 Truffle Oak Reserve. Many of these limited experimental Glenmorangie finishes such as Glenmorangie 1993 Burr Oak and Glenmorangie 1991 Missouri Oak have been rising steadily in value, though Truffle Oak has emerged as the auction leader.
Bonhams, Edinburgh came up trumps with £1,600 for a rare bottle of Brora 1972 30 Years Old bottled by Douglas Laing & Co Ltd for The Whisky Shop. This single cask black label edition comes from a special year that has produced many of the most collectable Brora whiskies, including the Rare Malts Selection, G&M Connoisseur’s Choice, The Brorageddon, and the first Diageo Special Releases Brora 30 Years Old in 2002. Scotch Whisky Auctions sold the Whisky Shop bottle in May 2013 for £1,100. A year later, Whisky Online Auctions sold a bottle for £1,250. Brora may be hovering outside the WMI top 25, but the output from this closed Highland distillery is gaining in value progressively, particularly those bottlings from the first decade of Diageo Special Releases.
The pear-shaped bottle of Springbank 50 Years Old has been vanishingly scarce these last few years. Bonhams sold two bottlings in October. The first bottle was a boxed edition at 66.3 proof which made £3,500, followed by a second bottle that made £4,800. The second bottle was distilled on 29 November 1919 and bottled on 25 November 1970 and came with a letter from the agent for the distillery as provenance. Although these bottles did not manage to attract the right buyer earlier in the year, I think these will prove to be very sound purchases. The best historical price at Bonhams has been £5,500 for Springbank 50 Years Old. Four to five years ago, these bottles were valued around the £1,000 – £2,000 mark. By late 2013, Whisky Online Auctions sold a bottle of Springbank 50 Years Old for £3,100.
Finally, The Macallan Select Reserve 1946 52 Years Old, a rock-solid collectible bottling which has trebled in value this decade. For a high value rarity, it has demonstrated the most durable rates of growth despite appearing up to a dozen times or more each year. In October, Bonhams sold two bottles back to back for £6,000 a piece (so £7,500 with premiums). Online, Scotch Whisky Auctions sold a bottle for £6,400 (£7,040 with premiums) in September, McTear’s got £5,000 in June (£6,000 with premiums), Whisky Auctioneer managed £5,200 in May (£5,720 with premiums), and Whisky Online Auctions have sold several bottles this year for between £4,700 and £5,600 (£5,405 – £6,440). Nothing quite matches the Hong Kong hammer price of nearly £11,000 that Bonhams achieved in August, but this bottling shows little sign of slowing down.
Did you know?
It won’t have escaped your notice that Old Overholt made a shock new entry into the WMI. This was the result of a colossal sale of early 20th Century Overholt rye whiskey at the Fine Wine and Spirits sale by Christies, New York that should see a second American brand occupy a spot in the top 10 for at least a year.
The most striking thing about the year’s second grand sale by Poly Auction, Hong Kong was not the high prices paid for Karuizawa, but the surprising number of unsold lots of The Macallan. Out of 80 lots of The Macallan, only 11 lots (14%) were sold. What did sell then? Scotch whisky’s most expensive bottle of the sale was Bowmore 1961 50 Years Old. This beautifully crafted decanter came out in 2013 with a release of 200 bottles, retailing at £16,000 a piece.